Looking back at what could have been between the Phillies and Shohei Ohtani.
Shohei Ohtani was a star before even coming to the United States to play Major League Baseball.
Across five seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball, the Japan native slashed .286/.358/.500 with 48 home runs and 166 RBI in more than 400 games. On the mound, he was 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA across 85 appearances and 62 starts.
Some labeled Ohtani as Japan’s Babe Ruth. So far, the soon-to-be 27-year-old is arguably better than the Hall of Famer and seven-time World Series champion. During his two-homer game on Tuesday, Ohtani became the MLB leader in home runs (28) — having slugged 11 home runs in his last 13 games, adding onto his already impressive 2.58 ERA on the mound.
What hurts the most for Philadelphia Phillies fans is what could have been had the John Middleton-led organization inked the star during the 2018 international signing period. Las Vegas had the Phillies listed as one of the favorites to land Ohtani at 25/1.
Others throughout MLB perceived the Phillies as longshots to acquire Ohtani, however, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki explains:
"Because Ohtani is beholden to Major League Baseball’s rules regarding signing bonuses for international free agents, the most he can make is $3.55 million. The Phils have only $900,000 remaining in their international bonus pool to offer him.But because the bonus is limited — Ohtani would likely make at least $100 million as a traditional free agent — other factors will come into play."
Ohtani reportedly sought a win-now-ready team that has a market where Japanese players have succeeded before. Former outfielder So Taguchi and former infielder Tadahito Iguchi make up the short list of Japanese players who have donned red pinstripes. Also, the intrigue of having a designated hitter spot available put the Phillies further back in the running.
When asked in February 2017 about his thoughts on what cities in the U.S. he was curious about and would like to see, Ohtani’s reply was that he wanted a picture of the “The Rocky Balboa statue.”
“Philadelphia has a baseball team, you know,” the MLB.com reporter replied. Ohtani answered: “No, I just want to visit there.”
Whether the two-way player had no idea the Phillies were a MLB team, or he simply had no interest in playing in the city is still a question for debate.
Ten months later, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reported that the Phillies made their interest in Ohtani known to his representatives and were “ready to pay the $20 million release fee” to his Japanese club:
"“Ohtani is beholden to international signing-bonus limits, so he will not be the subject of a bidding war. The Phillies have constructed a recruiting pitch to the 23-year-old player, trying to sell him on being a centerpiece talent on a growing team.”"
Keith Law at one point called the Phillies “sleepers” to sign the Japanese star. Ultimately, the Los Angeles Angels were the team he chose, and the rest is history.